SFIA Sees Positive Trends in Team Sports

A new report from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) reveals that while participation in teams sports is increasing, numbers have not quite returned to pre-pandemic levels.

The 2022 U.S. Trends in Team Sports Report examines participation and market trends from 2021 in team sports, and features in-depth data analysis of age group participation and specific takeaways. This year’s report also breaks down data on team sports coaches and trainings, and features a new section on young adult team sports participation, covering ages 18 to 24.

SFIA data shows that the number of team sports participants increased from 67 million in 2020 to 68.3 million in 2021—a growth of 1.8%--but participation is not yet back to where it was in 2019 at 70.8 million. There are positive signs for the future of team sports to be seen, as the number of participants in the 6-to-12 age group increased from 17 million to 17.6 million.

“The number of 6-to-12-year-olds playing sports not only increased in 2021, but it is the highest we have seen in the last five years,” said Tom Cove, president and CEO, SFIA. “After free play and recess, team sports are often the first regular physical activity in which children participate, and the experience can be the foundational connection to a lifetime of sports and fitness participation.”

As has been the case for many years, SFIA data revealed that basketball is still the most-played team sport in the United States with 27.1 million participants in 2021. Basketball has maintained high participation throughout the pandemic, as it is easy to play solo, in social formats and in small-sided games, and has a low cost of entry. While basketball continues to maintain its popularity, outdoor soccer managed to overtake basketball as the top sport for 6-year-olds in 2021. With the recent energy and excitement around both the men’s and women’s World Cup, SFIA expects soccer participation to continue to grow in the future.

Among 23 team sports, the biggest year-over-year changes in participation on a percentage basis belonged to fast-pitch softball (up 15.3%), gymnastics (up 10.9%), court volleyball (up 8.1%) and swimming on a team (up 8.0%). Participation in these activities was likely aided by the summer Olympics.

Five team sports—including flag football, grass volleyball, fast-pitch softball, court volleyball, and basketball—saw increased CORE participation over a five-year average for 6-to-17-year-olds. Eleven sports increased total participation over a five-year average for the same age range.

“While a lot of people were back participating in sports, it is important to remember that many spring season team sports were not at full strength in early 2021 due to the Omicron COVID variant,” Cove said. “While conclusive evidence remains to be drawn, early indications suggest 2022 participation may reach, if not surpass, 2019 numbers as organized spring sport activities fully returned for the first time in two years.”

For more information, visit sfia.org.